Humanoid Robots Playing Soccer, Part 2: How They Work





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Published on Aug 12, 2011

In July, the U.S. scored a major international soccer victory. While the nation was unable to bring home the Women's World Cup, Team DARwIn took first place in the Humanoid Kid Size competition at the 2011 RoboCup tournament in Istanbul, Turkey. The robots, whose name stands for "Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence," are a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania and Virginia Tech.

Penn Engineering team members who traveled to the competition included Stephen McGill, Seung-Joon Yi, Yida Zhang, along with Jordan Brindza, Ashleigh Thomas, Spencer Lee, and Nicholas McGill, who are undergraduate and graduate students in the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory. Team members from Virginia Tech included Jeakweon Han, a Ph.D. student in the RoMeLa Lab, and Taylor Pesek, an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering

For the competition, Penn developed the software framework that provided each robot with artificial intelligence (AI). This AI operates on multiple levels. At the most basic, it provides instructions on how to move each joint of the leg in order to walk; at the most complex, it incorporates all of information gathered by the robot—such as whether a collection of red pixels in its camera represents the ball, or the distance between itself, other robots and the goal — and uses it to make gameplay decisions.

The engineers their team's overarching strategy should focus on speed at the expense of strength and accuracy.

"Our goal was to get to the ball the fastest, which allows us to block other teams' kicks and move the ball upfield," Yi said. "The strategy for one of our rivals, the German team, was to make strong, accurate kicks, but it took them a long time to get into the kicking position. Our faster, shorter kicks were more effective."

RoboCup, and competitions like it, drive the advancement of sophisticated locomotion and intelligence for humanoids in a specific scenario where humans already display their prowess in motor skills and decision-making. "These competitions are important for robotics because they take the amazing research done in laboratories and push it to be more robust in real world situations," McGill said. "In competitions, there are rarely 'do-overs' and it is important to make sure that robots can adapt to many unforeseen obstacles. The end results are resilient and feature-full humanoid robots that are better able to work alongside humans."

In the Kid Size Class, Team DARwIn beat several teams, including one from Japan for the championship. The DARwIn 1 platform was introduced in 2004 and was a revolutionary humanoid robot prototype at the time, and has been followed by several incarnations since. DARwIn-OP was introduced this past year and is a fully open source design, where all information on the hardware is to be shared on-line for free, including detailed plans and drawings, manuals for fabrication and assembly.

Video by Kurtis Sensenig
Text by Evan Lerner

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